I was having a casual conversation with a guy earlier today and he suddenly threw the phrase ‘angry black woman’ at me. I think he was trying chat me up (that’s neither here nor there) and I wasn’t angry at the time which was why I was somewhat taken aback.
‘Angry black woman?!’ I said, rather incredulous at his use of the phrase in what I considered out of context…. and he’s a black man.
‘Yes’, he said, ‘Haven’t you heard that phrase before? It’s commonly used for black women, because a lot of them are angry.’
‘Well, I know a lot of black women and none of them are angry.’ I said.
‘Oh don’t you know they used it for Michelle Obama and she went on TV to defend it, and she was angry….’ he replied smugly, but then he left the sentence dangling and there was a sort of unspoken, ‘she proved their point didn’t she?’…….
This conversation made me think about labels and how we all have to deal with people’s perceptions of us. It could be argued that women’s under-representation in various spheres of life that have been much talked about, is mainly due to these labels. Amnesty International asserts that, ‘…. women are frequently subjected to gender norms that limit their opportunities, defining them as mothers, caregivers, or homemakers.’
Of course being a mother, caregiver or homemaker is a worthy occupation, but it’s not all women can be and the only people who can debunk this stereotype are women themselves. We as women tend to forget that we are all individuals with various talents, strengths and experiences that can never define us completely as a anything other than a unique individual who, teaming up with other unique individuals can achieve great things in any sphere of life.
So as mothers and mentors we must always be careful to celebrate girls and young women for who they are not for who people expect them to be. We must inspire them to be the people they want to be even if it defies other people’s idea of what a woman should be. They should never be self-conscious about wanting to be in a male-dominated profession or environment and shouldn’t be put off by comments like, ‘There’s just something odd about a woman who wants to be in charge!’
Growing up in Nigeria, in West Africa, I was always made aware of what was expected of me, to get married and have children (been there done that), even though I yearned for adventure and something more, I never felt free to pursue it, because of sayings (Africans love their sayings) like ‘A woman’s education ends in the kitchen and the bedroom’ and ‘What is Bsc or Msc without M-R-S?’ Thankfully, I grew up with strong independent women who modelled being your own woman.
I found out though that it might have been an inadvertent modelling, as my mother had a frank chat with me after my then boyfriend reported to her that I had turned down his proposal because I wanted to travel the world. He took this to mean I was a feminist and reported as much to my mother, who was horrified! I pointed out to her that I was just as adventurous and unconventional as she was and she gave me an incredulous look and a knowing smile.
I have since been inspired by the biographies of people like Beatrix Potter, Virginia Woolf and Emmeline Pankhurst. In their day, women were even more disenfranchised than today, yet these women stood out and stood up for who they were and what they knew they had to do.
More recently, I was inspired by the film about the life of Margaret Thatcher, The Iron Lady, because yet again, people reduce her to a stereotype of a woman who wanted to get ahead and so became more like a man. The reality is that great achievement lies not in gender but in being the best person you can be.
So here’s to all the incredible persons who make up half the world’s population and make the world a better place!